GayCalgary® Magazine [copy]

Out of Town

Weekend in Philadelphia

Travel by Andrew Collins (From GayCalgary® Magazine, June 2014, page 30)
Downtown Philadelphia’s striking skyline
Downtown Philadelphia’s striking skyline
Image by: Andrew Collins

Spring is a wonderful time to visit vibrant Philadelphia (, home to some of the most important and fascinating art museums and historic attractions in the country, not to mention a superb – even a bit underrated – restaurant scene and a rich selection of stylish hotels. It’s a lovely time of year to stroll around Independence National Historical Park, admiring the buildings in which the founding fathers conceived of the United States, and to wander through Fairmount Park, with its groomed paths meandering along the Schuylkill River. Here’s a blueprint for spending a perfect weekend in the City of Brotherly Love.

Friday Evening

On your first night, kick things off with a memorable meal. In Philadelphia, you’ll find a heady mix of international culinary influences, a dedication on the part of many chefs to sustainable and locally sourced ingredients, and a thriving craft-cocktail and beer scene. Chef and restaurant partners (in business and in life) Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran have made an indelible mark on Philadelphia by opening several outstanding eateries, all of them highly popular with the LGBT community – you might even dine at one of their restaurants each night of your visit, or consider making a progressive dinner one evening by sampling one or two items at a few different spots.

Among the Turney-Safran venues, consider cozy and romantic Little Nonna’s ( for pan-seared potato gnocchi, grilled pork chop pizzaiola, and other classic Italian dishes; Barbuzzo ( for beautifully prepared Mediterranean tapas, cured-meat and cheese plates, and pizzas; or Jamonera ( for traditional Spanish tapas.


Start the day with a leisurely stroll around the City Center – well worth a visit is Rittenhouse Square Park. City-planning guru Jane Jacobs called this tiny patch of paradise the most successful urban park in the United States; indeed, Rittenhouse Square is picturesque, socially diverse, highly safe and largely unsullied by post-World War II architecture. Off the Square’s southeast corner is the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music, where Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein and Ned Rorem studied, as well as the Philadelphia Art Alliance, which presents outstanding exhibits and art shows.

Stop by La Colombe Torrefaction ( for an expertly brewed espresso, or if you’re looking for a proper brunch, nearby Honey’s Sit ‘N Eat ( is a terrific option (try the "Honey Cristo": challah French toast stuffed with Lancaster County double-smoked ham and Swiss, and topped with two sunny eggs).

Depending on how much you’ve eaten during your morning stroll, in the early afternoon, make your way northeast about a mile from Rittenhouse Square to visit the famed and cavernous Reading Terminal Market (, which dates back to 1892 and contains more than 80 stalls carrying everything from local seafood to Pennsylvania Dutch specialties to decadent baked goods and homemade fudge.

Even if you’re not a big history buff, you can’t visit Philadelphia and not soak up at least a whiff or two of the city’s amazingly rich heritage. The Old City neighborhood, just a 15-minute walk east of Reading Terminal Market, contains the bulk of the city’s pre-1800s attractions, most them centered around Independence National Historical Park, which celebrates the very birth of our nation. Most famous is the Liberty Bell Pavilion, site of America’s beloved and cracked 2,000-pound bell. Although commonly thought to have played a significant role in Colonial history, the Liberty Bell actually rose to prominence during the 1830s as a symbol of the movement to abolish slavery.

Nearby Independence Hall is where the Second Continental Congress met in 1775, the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776, the Articles of Confederation were signed in 1778, and the Constitution was adopted in 1787. It was also the site of the city’s first major civil rights demonstrations (which included the concerns of lesbians and gays). The list of important sights within the park goes on and on – you could easily spend a full day here.

Saturday Evening

As the dinner hour approaches, book a table at one of the restaurants operated by another of Philadelphia’s culinary stars, local celeb chef Stephen Starr ( It’s not easy to choose among the more than a dozen Starr eateries around the city, but two standouts include Jones (, which is right by Independence Hall and serves eclectic Southern- and Caribbean-inspired dishes like fried chicken and waffles, and spicy jambalaya; or, around the corner, snazzy Talula’s Garden (, which specializes in artfully plated contemporary American fare, such as filet of beef with foie gras-brown butter and seared local brook trout with garlic-braised guanciale, snap peas and fiddlehead ferns.

The city’s compact gay district, nicknamed the Gayborhood, is where you’ll want to go if you’re up for some bar-hopping and clubbing. Favorite gay nightspots include long-running but handsomely revamped Woody’s (, a youthful video and dance bar that’s quite crowded every night of the week. The three-story Voyeur Nightclub ( is the Gayborhood’s go-to for dancing into the wee hours (it’s open till a little after 3 a.m.), while Tavern on Camac ( is a charming gay piano bar with a cozy restaurant in the basement. Other friendly options in the area include U Bar (, an attractive spot with exposed-brick walls and warm lighting; trendy but friendly Knock Bar and Restaurant (, a great option both for dining and cocktails; ICandy (, which has an inviting roof deck and hot dancers; and the Venture Inn (, the oldest gay bar in town, set in a historic tavern.


Now that you’ve become acquainted with Philly’s rich history, head to two or three of the city’s renowned art museums on Sunday. But first, kick off your adventure with brunch at wonderful Sabrina’s Café (, near the Parkway Museums District. Fave morning dishes include huevos rancheros with smoky chorizo sausage and blue-corn tortillas, and house-made granola with Greek yogurt and berries.

If you have time for just one museum, make it the Barnes Foundation, an internationally acclaimed collection assembled by the late chemist Albert Barnes and moved from his suburban Philadelphia mansion into a stunning contemporary exhibit space in 2012. The collection is rather idiosyncratic, with works from a range of cultures, but there’s a particular emphasis on Impressionist and Modernist artists, especially Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, and the lesser-known (and gay) Pennsylvania painter Charles Demuth. Give yourself at least a couple of hours to tour this singular museum.

If possible, also try to stop by the famed Rodin Museum, which contains the largest collection of the eponymous artist’s sculptures outside Paris, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which sits within a dramatic Greek Revival building amid 10 landscaped acres. Standouts in the permanent collection include contemporary masterpieces by Picasso, Braque, and Matisse as well as works by a number of post-World War II artists. The outstanding Marcel Duchamp collection includes renditions of his Nude Descending a Staircase. Check out the fine collection of photos and paintings by gay artist Thomas Eakins of young, virile men crewing and boating on the nearby Schuylkill River.

And that’s just scratching the surface. The museum is adjacent to lushly landscaped Fairmount Park, which straddles the Schuylkill River and comprises nearly 9,000 acres of picturesque gardens, walkways and biking and bridle paths, plus about a dozen historic (mostly Colonial) mansions, which are open to the public.

Sunday Evening

Philadelphia has some outstanding ethnic dining options. For stellar Mexico City-inspired fare, try Distrito (, which serves the creative cuisine of talented chef Jose Garces. Or for delish Asian fare, head to informal Cheu Noodle Bar (, an inventive Gayborhood favorite for brisket ramen, coconut curry and barbecue pig tails with turnip kimchi.

Where to Stay in Philadelphia

The city has a terrific mix of historic and stylish, design-driven hotels, with quite a few options within easy walking distance of Gayborhood bars and restaurants. Discerning fans of the arts favor the refined Four Seasons Philadelphia (, on Logan Square, just a couple of blocks from the Barnes Foundation and other top museums. Request a room overlooking the square, and be sure to enjoy cocktails or a light bite in the casually sophisticated Lounge, or dinner in the Fountain Restaurant, which serves nonpareil French food. Another draw here is the hotel’s soothing day spa.

Near stately Rittenhouse Square, the hip and modish Radisson Blu Warwick ( occupies a marvelously transformed historic hotel with artfully designed rooms and cushy beds; Tavern 17, off the mod lobby, is a fun spot to meet friends for drinks or dinner, and cozy and stylish Stir ( gay neighborhood bar is across the street. One of the largest and most inviting urban gay-owned hotels in the country, the reasonably priced Alexander Inn ( has 48 warmly appointed rooms and is steps from local bars.

Gay-favored Kimpton hotels operates the dapper Hotel Palomar (, also close to the Gayborhood, as well as the sleek Hotel Monaco (, which is in Old City close to Independence Hall – a nice alternative if you’d prefer to be near the city’s most historic attractions. Other LGBT-popular lodging gems include the Loews Philadelphia (, which occupies the handsome 1930s PSFS Building; and the Hyatt at Bellevue (, a 172-room grande dame on the legendary Avenue of the Arts.


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